Dorstone Castle

Has been described as a Certain Timber Castle (Motte), and also as a Certain Masonry Castle

There are earthwork remains

NameDorstone Castle
Alternative NamesDorston; Tordestone
Historic CountryHerefordshire
Modern AuthorityHerefordshire
1974 AuthorityHereford and Worcester
Civil ParishDorstone

Earthwork and buried remains of a motte and bailey castle situated on floodplain near the head of the Golden Valley. It sits on the south bank of the Pant-y-Weston Brook, near its confluence with the headwaters of the River Dore. The remains include a substantial motte mound whose surrounding ditch was originally filled with water diverted from the brook. Two baileys adjoin the motte, one roughly kidney shaped enclosure extending north eastwards, and the other extending to the south west. The earthen motte mound has a roughly oval plan with a maximum diameter of 60m at the base. The motte is steep sided and rises up to 10m above the bottom of the surrounding ditch, to a flat top with a diameter of 32m-38m. Material for the construction of the mound will have been quarried from the ditch which averages 12m wide and survives in some areas to a depth of 3.5m. The ditch, now dry, is almost completely infilled in the north west quarter, north west of which the ground level drops away to the brook. A low earthen bank roughly 4m wide flanks the ditch in this area. The markedly squared north east end of this bank probably housed a sluice which regulated the water level in the ditch, although evidence for this feature only survives below ground. In the north east quarter the ditch narrows to c.6m, and is crossed by a causeway from which a broad curved path has been terraced into the side of the mound, representing the original access to the motte. There is a slight external or counterscarp bank around the south west edge of the ditch. There are now no surface indications of the tower which would have surmounted the motte, and the absence of stone at the site suggests it was of timber construction. Some stone, however, is visible amongst tree roots below the summit of the motte, which may therefore have been revetted with a stone rubble wall

The north eastern bailey is an artificially levelled platform, raised up to 1.3m above the surrounding ground level, and measuring c.65m south west-north east by c.80m south east-north west. The north west and north east sides of the bailey are clearly defined, however to the east the construction of a barn, and more recently public lavatories and associated sewerage, has cut away sections of the platform. The bailey extends south eastwards to the adjacent property boundary, beyond which it has been modified by modern landscaping. The remains of its southern edge can be seen as a low scarp running westwards from the property boundary to the east edge of the motte ditch. The south western bailey is also a level platform, the edge of which can be seen extending westwards from the motte ditch. Its straight western edge is defined by a ditch up to 6m wide, the northern end of which opens out into a marshy area close to the brook. This ditch has been reused as a post-medieval field boundary, and has become infilled to the south. The southern edge of the bailey platform can be seen as a low scarp running eastwards into the adjacent field boundary, beyond which it is not visible as a surface feature. Further north east a low scarp running west from the property boundary towards the east side of the motte ditch marks the north eastern extent of the south western bailey, running parallel to and roughly 12m south of the southern edge of the north eastern bailey. There is no evidence that the baileys were ever defined by a stone curtain wall; their edges will have been enhanced by timber palisades. Dorstone Castle is believed to have been founded by De Brito, one of the murderers of Thomas a Beckett, and was later the main holding of the Solers family. At Domesday Dorstone, then known as Tordestone, was one of three holdings granted to Thurston de Solers by Bernard de Newmarch, conqueror of Brecknockshire, and although not specifically mentioned in the survey it is likely that the motte and bailey was already in existence. The castle guards the vulnerable valley route into Wales, and is one of a chain of medieval sites defending the Golden Valley, its nearest neighbour being the castle at Snodhill some 1.5km to the south west. (Scheduling Report)

1403. Sept. 8. Worcester. To G. bishop of St. Davids. Strict order, in consideration of the mischief and peril which might happen to the king and realm and to the lieges of Wales by careless guarding of castles in those parts, especially during the present rebellion of Owen Glendourdy and others there, under pain of loss and forfeiture of his castle of Laghadyn and of the lordships, manors, lands and possessions thereto pertaining, to take such order for the furnishing and safe guard of the said castle with fencible men, victuals, armour, artillery and all other things needful for the purpose, that no damage or peril shall arise by his default or negligence or by careless guard thereof. By K. and C. – Walter Fitz Wauter knight, the castles of Lynhales and Dorston. (in a list of 17 persons and their 22 castles) (Calendar of Close Rolls)

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law

Not Listed

Historic England (PastScape) Defra or Monument number(s)
County Historic Environment Record
OS Map Grid ReferenceSO312416
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  • Bradley, J. and Gaimster, M., 2003, 'Medieval Britain and Ireland in 2002' Medieval Archaeology Vol. 47 p. 251-68
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  • Hogg, A.H.A. and King, D.J.C., 1967, 'Masonry castles in Wales and the Marches: a list' Archaeologia Cambrensis Vol. 116 p. 71-132 (survived into C13 without being rebuilt in stone)
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Primary Sources

  • Rickard, John, 2002, The Castle Community. The Personnel of English and Welsh Castles, 1272-1422 (Boydell Press) (lists sources for 1272-1422) p. 240
  • Stamp, A.E. (ed), 1929, Calendar of Close Rolls Henry IV (1402-05) Vol. 2 p. 111 (1403 as defensible) view online copy (requires subscription but searchable)